Gold Country in northern California offers heart-stopping adventures and stunning tranquil settings. Either way, nature will knock your socks off. This week-long California road trip adventure was full of so many different activities and of course, lots of fun.
California Road Trip
This California road trip was through Gold Country on the picturesque Highway 49 where scenic Gold Rush-era towns and outdoor activities are in abundance. Our trip started and ended in Sacramento. Besides a phone dropped in the water and blowing up two tires on the car , our road trip went smoothly!
This trip was with Visit California, and there were groups of people from all over the world going on different road trips at the same time. There are so many road trips that I want to do in California and this Gold Country road trip was one of them. I have plans already in the works for a road trip to take me from Palm Strings to Temecula and then Huntington Beach and also an Eastern Sierra Nevada road trip one day, too.
Let’s first introduce my squad that joined me on this California road trip. I think I had the best team out there! Joining me were Daniel from Austria, Jonjo (aka JJ) from the UK, Naoko from Japan and Hyo-Jin from Korea.
Day 1 – Sacramento
I had a few extra days in Sacramento prior to this trip, and absolutely loved it. It is a very bike friendly community and I would definitely go back again to explore more of the area. It was such a vibrant city and I loved all the street art and murals in Sacramento.
Sacramento Underground Tour
Take an entertaining and informative tour through the underbelly of Sacramento with the Underground Tour. During the floods of the 1860’s and 70’s, the city had to be “jacked up”, meaning literally raised up to avoid further damaging flood waters. We walked among hollow sidewalks, sloped alleyways and underground spaces. Hilarious but knowledgeable guides made the tour incredibly entertaining.
We had an event dinner at the California Railroad Museum, which is located along the waterfront in Old Sacramento. Here the railroad is brought to life with immaculately restored engines and cars. You will learn why the railroad has kept the Golden State steaming along for nearly 200 years.
Make sure you go to see the Tower Bridge which is painted a shimmery gold and looks absolutely brilliant at sunset….a true California golden moment. At sunrise and sunset, the golden glow of the Tower Bridge matches that of the cupola on the State Capitol Building which is just down the street. Until 1963 this bridge carried railroad traffic in the center, with vehicles to the sides.
California’s State Capital
Delve into California’s unique history, while enjoying the architecture of the State Capital in Sacramento. Self-guided and guided tours are available, and they also have a museum! The tours offer an interpretive information of the historic offices, legislative chambers and stunning artwork located around the Capitol building.
Where We Stayed & Ate
In Sacramento we stayed at the Embassy Suites Riverfront Promenade which is on the waterfront right beside the Tower Bridge and across the street from Old Sacramento. We walked everywhere or used bike/scooter sharing with Jump.
Also, all road trips require a vehicle and Avis deserves a special shout out for the rental and for coming to the rescue when we got two flat tires.
Day 2 – Folsom
Most commonly known as Folsom Prison and a Johnny Cash song about it, Folsom is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. There are approximately 95 miles (152.8 km) of trails around Folsom that give you a spectacular views of the lakes and rivers in the area.
Cycling the Johnny Cash Trail
When in Folsom, why not do what the Johnny Cash fans do? Take a bike ride! The Johnny Cash Trail is a paved, multi-use trail that winds its way behind the City Hall campus, along the American River and across the Robbers’ Ravine Bridge. The ravine served as a hideout for stagecoach robbers back in the day. This trail is so easy, and it was so fun riding the electric bikes they are made easy for everyone to drive!
Kayaking at Lake Natoma
The Lake is a slender, five-mile stretch of water running alongside Folsom. It was formed by the expansion of the American River as Nimbus Dam backs up the river to slow the waters from Folsom Dam. The calm waters are perfect for stand-up kayaking. I am a huge fan of kayaking and it was such a horrible day out but as soon as we got on the water the sky cleared up for us and we got some sunshine. You get to see all the bridges including rainbow bridge!
Where We Stayed & Ate
In Folsom, I’d suggest you check out Karen’s Bakery and Cafe and Mas Taco Bar. For a special treat (if you are a chocolate lover) pop into the Chocolate Architect. During our time here, we stayed at Natoma Inn.
You can watch my Gold Country California road trip vlog below or on YouTube for better quality.
Day 3 – Placer County
Placer County sits 132 miles northeast of San Francisco and 100 miles west of Reno. Outdoor enthusiasts love at the county’s abundance of year-round recreational activities at its hundreds of miles of breathtaking national forest, parks.
Auburn State Recreational Area
In the heart of gold country, the Auburn State Recreational Area is this beautiful natural setting where a relaxing hike can melt the cares away. There is boating, fishing, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, and yes, gold panning! People still do it, if only for fun. I legit cant say anything but good things about Auburn it was a dream nature heaven…I just loved it!
We went to the Lake Clementine Dam and just a short walk from the top of the dam you can walk down to the lake level. We also went rock climbing at the Cave Valley (aka Auburn Quarry) . It was so fun! I have only been indoor climbing before, so getting to climb was amazing and I was so proud myself.
The Foresthill Bridge, which soars 730 feet above the American River’s North Fork, is the 4th highest bridge in the US and the tallest in California. It was definitely worth the stop on my California road trip through Gold Country.
Where We Stayed & Ate
In Auburn, we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn. We also stopped by the Park Victorian Inn for cocktail hour. For dinner we were treated to a Taste of Placer County dinner at the PaZa Winery which I highly recommend.
Day 4 – El Dorado County
El Dorado County is a year-round vacation destination overflowing with outdoor adventure, a welcoming wine and agricultural scene, enriching family activities, and a proud Gold Rush history.
Fishing at Henningsen Lotus Park
Learn how to fish trout with the best – the folks at Trout Unlimited. Patience is key! Fishing is an art, and these guys no how to show you the best tips and tricks for fishing trout in the rivers of gold country. Beside the cute outfit, I grew up camping and fishing, so this was a home run for me. We sadly didn’t catch anything, but it was still so fun. Check out details here.
Rafting on the American River
Mother Lode River Center Adventure Park rafting in Marshall Gold State Historic Park, while floating in a raft down the south fork of the American River. The Mother Lode River Center has whitewater river rafting to get the adrenaline pumping. Rafting was so great you can raft through so many different grades and our team went in two different boats I was in one boat with the lovely guide Thomas and then the rest of team was in another boat.
Where We Stayed & Ate
In the Coloma area, we lodged at the Coloma Cottages which are just below famous Troublemaker rapids on the South Fork of the American River and within walking distance to the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park . I’d also suggested you try Marcos Cafe for lunch or dinner.
Day 5 & 6 – Calaveras County
Calaveras County is a year-round travel destination in beautiful Gold Country and the spectacular High Sierra between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. Calaveras has award-winning Sierra Foothills wineries, unlimited recreational opportunities and picturesque Gold Rush towns.
Calveras Big Trees State Park
Calveras Big Trees State Park became a state park in 1931, to preserve the giant sequoias, found all around Northern California. This includes the “Discovery Tree” a/k/a the “Big Stump.” It is the first Sierra redwood tree discovered by Augustus T. Down back in 1852. Big tree state park was by far my favorite place. These trees were so stunning and so huge!!! There are so many paths you can take, and you can explore a lot of the park. I would love to go back and explore more of the park.
Moaning Cavern Adventure Park is home to the single largest cave chamber in all of California. Moaning Cavern was discovered by miners in 1851, and it is so massive that it could hold the entire Statue of Liberty inside of it. Early visitors would climb into a large bucket and be slowly lowered down. Nowadays, a spiral staircase provides easy access, or, if you prefer you can repel the 50 meters from the top of the chamber to the bottom.
Here you can take a cave tour, have a ziplining adventure and enjoy stunning views along the way. Sadly not everyone in our group got to go ziplining because there was lighting too close…next trip for sure will try again. Moaning Cavern is definitely a must see stop on your California road trip.
New Melones Lake
New Melones is located between the historic mining towns of Sonora and Angels Camp on Highway 49. New Melones Lake Glory Hole Recreation Area offers spectacular outdoor recreation on and the 3rd largest reservoir in California making it the perfect place for a relaxing boat ride.
Natural Bridge at Calveras
This two-mile round-trip hike to the Natural Bridge in Calveras is not for the faint of heart but is so worth it! It is a steep hike down and a heart-pumping hike back up. Along the way you will see gorgeous limestone caverns, carved out by Coyote Creek.
Where We Stayed & Ate
We also had an extra special dinner at the Ironstone Vineyards.